I started playing Metro 2033 last night. From the little I had read about the game, I could glean the following:
- It is a very strict linear experience. Some labeled this as a negative thing, and I am not sure why. The Max Payne series was a straight line with nay a single opportunity to veer from the beaten path, and still managed to deliver incredible atmosphere and story. More recently, even groundbreaking and blockbuster titles like Modern Warfare 2 featured a story campaign that bee-lined from beginning to end, no side missions, just powerful storytelling.
- It is highly atmospheric and entire sections/areas have been constructed just to create a better sense of the world.
- It is a mediocre shooter.
- It is based on a Russian novel.
- The world is post-apocalyptic with the remnants of humanity residing in underground subway stations, passing the days till the surface becomes remotely habitable again. You could say it’s a Fallout ripoff, but the damn book came first, so suck it Vault-dwellers!
All of the above is more or less accurate.
Like a Bull to a Matador
The game is painfully linear, to the point that if you are traveling with companions and they start marching off to the next checkpoint, they will not stop to check on you if you decide to sprout adventurous wings and go about exploring the area for scarce ammo and other supplies. In fact, the AI-controlled teammates will cross a digital threshold that triggers 6 mutants to be unleashed in the area, and will calmly keep on marching ahead, oblivious to your frantic cries of help as you hobble about trying to ward off and shoot the creatures with starter weapons that can only be compared to glorified slingshots. In a way, this reinforces the concept that you need to stick with your team if you don’t want to end up in the mutants’ crock pot that night, but it does break realism in that the AI will very strictly follow pre-determined paths and objectives of the woefully linear mission.
There is some room for exploration. Deviating from the path, while mostly hazardous and, for the lack of a better term, lonely, does net considerable advantages in the form of much needed and increasingly scarce gas mask filters, ammo and even upgraded guns. My favorite gun so far is a revolver, modified with a rifle barrel extension for increased accuracy and a silencer to pick off targets without attracting unwanted attention.
A Rich Back Story
To say that the game is atmospheric would be sort of like saying Avatar was quite under-hyped. There are little snippets of information strewn about in the form of pre-nuclear-winter memorabilia, random conversations from individuals in the populated stations (I use ‘populated’ loosely, ‘crammed’ would be a more apt depiction), and vestiges of lost civilization the NPCs cling on to for dear life. People are jam-packed like sardines in these nuclear shelters, claiming improvised shacks, even cupboards and benches in old, unused subway cars as their new home. The show, as they say, must go on. There are entire sections of the game world that offer no plot advancement, trade or combat; they have been created just to portray the harsh underground existence of these doomed denizens. It is blatantly obvious to anyone who spends more than a few minutes just exploring a locale to realize this was a labor of love for the developers, and they have poured their collective creativity and meticulous attention to detail and subtext into virtually every nook and cranny in the game. Sheer brilliance. 11/10 for atmosphere.
So-So Pew Pew
It is not a mediocre shooter, it’s actually below average. Gun don’t pack the satisfying punch that brings with it an unsaid level of comfort. The recoil is too mathematical and under-compensated. In the time it takes to reload, I could probably read the book the game is based on. The enemy AI seems cunning on the surface, ducking out from behind cover, darting between different areas to keep you on your toes, but if you sit back and observe, you realize they are darting about primarily for the sake of darting about.
No one is flanking you, they seem to be determined, programmed one might say, to move about haphazardly, to create a false sense that you are up against an enemy that is responding to your attack logically. All said and done, if you are looking for a great shooter, you will find the makings of one here, but it falls quite short of the precedent set by MW2 and ME2.
Did It Just Get Cold In Here, Or Is It Just Me?
Some may claim the game is not creepy, just radiating an ambiance of dread, uncertainty and a few unintentional cheap scares. I wouldn’t disagree entirely, however, there were some moments that jolted me. One of these moments came quite early on. A party of four, myself included, were pushing a hand cart down a subway tunnel with the intention of reaching the next station.
As the cart rounded a corner, I saw the shadow of a little kid, 4, maybe 5 years old, donning a military helmet walking down the track directly ahead of us. I though to myself, this is a throughway, there are bound to be traders or migrating families moving about within the metro system. Except I could see no one else with the child. And then I realized I couldn’t see the child either. It was just a shadow, a silhouette that eerily marched down the tracks, got larger as the light from our cart approached it, and then simply disintegrated into nothingness as we moved past it. Color me creeped out!
All in all I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. It has its drawbacks, but the void Mass Effect 2 has left is at least partially filled with the atmospheric work of genius that is Metro 2033.